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Alliteration: A Simple Subject to Study Successfully!

Introduction

Susie sells seashells by the seashore since Sheldon successfully sells snow cones standing by shambles of sad snowmen. Her partner Peter Piper picks pecks of pickled peppers, pushing past his persistent ponderings of paradoxes pertaining to unpreventable problems, which produce a pessimistic perspective. Basically, being busy as a bee is becoming of better-balanced beliefs, besides breaking bottom lines.

The Explanation

You might recognize these statements from popular tongue twisters. They’re particularly hard to pronounce because they liberally employ a rhetorical device known as alliteration. Notice the repeated sounds, like the “s” in “Susie sells seashells,” the “p” in “Her partner Peter Piper,” or the “b” in “being busy as a bee.”

Definition of Alliteration

Alliteration is the repetition of a consonant sound, often at the start of words. It can also be found in the middle of words, though, like the phrase “seashells by the seashore.” While the earlier examples of alliteration were long sentences, even a phrase consisting of two words counts as alliteration. Furthermore, not every word needs to have the recurring sound scheme for the statement to be alliterative. You’ll often find prepositions or pronouns in between the words creating the repetition, as in the example, “pushing past his persistent ponderings of paradoxes.” Thus, the phrase is still alliterative overall despite the breaks in between.

The History

The word “alliteration” was first believed to be used in the early to mid-seventeenth century, although plenty of examples of alliteration can be found in documents much older. The term comes from the Latin word “alliteratio,” which translates into “to begin with the same letter.” Contrary to its literal meaning, alliteration is based on pronunciation, not spelling. This means a phrase like “past phone call” isn’t alliterative even though both words begin with the same letter. However, the phrase “silent city” is. A repeating sound, not a repeating letter, is indicative of alliteration.

Using It

Alliteration thrives in poetry and music. Used sparingly, it can draw attention to a particular verse or phrase. Emily Dickinson’s use of the “m” sound in her poem “Much Madness Is Divinest Sense” causes readers to focus on the theme of the titular madness and to ponder over what being mad even means. Over-using alliteration can lead to a more comedic effect. There are several modern comics who employ alliteration to enhance their routines. 

You likely use alliteration in your average conversation too. Many common idioms and phrases are examples of alliteration - busy as a bee, dead as a doornail, or cool as a cucumber. 

Certain sound patterns have different auditory effects, which can evoke particular feelings among the listener. Hard, jarring sounds produced by the alliteration in Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” chills the reader with a sense of danger. Alliteration can also be used to set a rhythm to a piece, slowing it down or speeding it up. 

Furthermore, alliteration can be found in advertisements and campaigns. Short alliterative phrases not only draw attention but are also easier to memorize. Alliterative brand names, campaign slogans, and political messages stick out and stay in your mind. The application of alliteration is very versatile and far more flexible and functional than mere musical meters.

Think Further

  1. Think of a certain consonant sound and the auditory effect that it produces. How/what do you feel when you hear this sound?
  2. When have you most recently used alliteration or seen it used? For what purpose was it used for?
  3. What are more examples of common phrases that employ alliteration?

Teacher Resources

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Learn More

  1. Boers, Frank & Seth Lindstromberg. “The Mnemonic Effect of Noticing Alliteration in Lexical Chunks.” Applied Linguistics, vol 29, issue 2, June 2008, pp 200-222. dio: 10.1093/applin/amn007.
  2. Boers, Frank, Seth Lindstromberg & June Eyckmans. “Is alliteration mnemonic without awareness-raising?” Language Awareness vol 23, issue 4, 2014 pp 291-303. doi: 10.1080/09658416.2013.774008.
  3. Dowker, Ann. “Rhyme and Alliteration in poems elicited from young children.” Journal of Child Language, vol 16, issue 1, Feb 1989, pp 181-202. dio: 10.1017/S0305000900013507.
  4. Minkova, Dona. Alliteration and Sound Change in Early English. Cambridge University Press, 2003. ISBN: 0-521-57317-3.
  5. Missall, Kristen N. & Scott R. McConnell. “Psychometric Characteristics of Individual Growth & Development Indicators: Picture Naming, Rhyming, and Alliteration.” Center for Early Education and Development, University of Minnesota, April 2004.